Brooms, rocks and wheels
Two words you’ll never hear skip Rick Prud’homme say to his team.
Prud’homme is skip of Sudbury’s only wheelchair curling team, which also includes Denis Duclos as third, Norm Martel, second, and Steve Daniel, lead. They curl Thursday nights in the men’s league at the Sudbury Curling Club (SCC), where they take on men with brooms. Prud’homme’s team is at a slight disadvantage — nobody sweeps their rocks. But what they lack in sweeping, they make up for in accuracy.
Curling for their team involves one player holding the wheelchair of the shooter while the other shoots the rock using a stick, like the ones used in stick curling.
The four men have been curling together for three years, but they’ve known each other for much longer. They’ve all played for the Rolling Thunder wheelchair basketball team as well.
The first time any of the foursome heard about wheelchair curling was when Dave Kawahara, from the Port Arthur Curling Club in Thunder Bay, visited the SCC to demonstrate the sport. Kawahara is the Northern Ontario Curling Association (NOCA) wheelchair curling co-ordinator.
In 2003, the SCC was renovated through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. As part of the renovations, the club was able to create the only wheelchair accessible curling club in northeastern Ontario, and one of three in Northern Ontario.
But for years, the new elevator at the club sat unused.
“Occasionally, an elderly stick curler might use it to get up to the bar, and, for a while, we used it to transport beer kegs,” SCC manager Tim Phillips said.
In the three years Prud’homme’s team has been curling together, they have competed twice at the wheelchair curling provincials, finishing second both times. In March 2012, they were invited to the nationals after Team New Brunswick pulled out at the last minute. Most recently Prudhomme’s team played at the Cathy Kerr Memorial Bonspiel — the largest wheelchair curling event in the world where various national teams, including Team Scotland and Team USA played.
Although the men play regularly together in Sudbury, during competitive play against other wheelchair teams, they must have a female curler on the team. Their lead player in competition is Linda Kontunen from the Fort William Curling Club in Thunder Bay.
But getting to the competitions isn’t all about how well they perform. The finances pose a challenge as well. Since its first competition, the team has been both coached and sponsored by Norm Gervais, the owner of MEDIchair Sudbury, a home medical equipment franchise. However, other sponsors are needed to cover the cost of transportation and accommodation.
“The first year we played in Thunder Bay, we found it easier to get sponsors, like RBC,” Prud’homme said
However, the skip said the the novelty of a wheelchair curling team has worn off and his team had difficulty raising funds for its return to the provincials in Kenora at the end of February. Luckily in the second year, the provincials were hosted at the team’s home club.
Daniel, who was the team’s former skip, has recently started studying to be a doctor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. With a large chunk of his time devoted to his studies, Daniel stepped down as skip, as he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to competition. But Prud’homme said there’s still a role for him with the team.
“When he graduates, he’s going to be our big sponsor,” Prud’homme said with a laugh.